Photo by Jordan Megenhardt
By Greg Dillard
It all comes down to this.
After a magical 94 win-performance in the regular season to earn the National League West Division title, the D-backs are Milwaukee-bound for the NL Division series.
Arizona will take on the NL Central Champion Brewers in a compelling playoff matchup. The series kicks off with Game 1 on Saturday. The D-backs are set to send ace Ian Kennedy to the mound for his first career postseason start. Milwaukee will counter with an ace of its own in the form of right-hander Yovani Gallardo.
The mood amongst the clubhouse was thrilling as the D-backs departed Chase Field on Thursday afternoon for Wisconsin.
“It’s an exciting time of the year,” pitcher Micah Owings said. “This is what you play for all year. I can’t say enough about the team and how hard everybody has worked to get to this point. We’re just going to go in and take it one game at a time and go from there.”
This division series pits a pair of teams who experienced plenty of success in the 2011 regular season, with the D-backs surpassing many people’s expectations en route to a division crown.
They now hope to continue that success in the postseason.
“We’ve obviously played really well,” Owings said. “We can feed off that. We just got to keep the focus on what got us here and go out and have fun with it.”
Like he’s done all season long, Kennedy will look to put his team in a strong position to win. He collected an incredible 21 wins and a 2.88 ERA in just his second full season in the Major Leagues. Kennedy beat the Brewers on July 21 by tossing seven shutout innings. He allowed just four hits while striking out five to help Arizona earn a 4-0 win.
With their ace on the hill, the D-backs like their chances.
“You’re talking about a guy that’s in the running for the Cy Young,” Owings said. “Obviously he’s been huge for our staff. We’ve had a lot of guys step up this year. He’s kind of taken the reins and led the way for the starters. It’ll be exciting to watch him.”
Kennedy and the rest of the D-backs’ pitching staff will face the tall task of pitching against the hard-hitting Brewers lineup. Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder pieced together banner years at the plate for Milwaukee. Braun batted .332 with 33 homers, while Fielder bashed 38 long balls of his own.
While Arizona pitchers are well aware of the Brewers’ hitting prowess, it’s something they won’t focus on once they get there.
“You go back to controlling each pitch and focusing on each pitch and not really getting too caught up in what they can do,” Owings said. “You respect that going in, but you don’t really look at it when you’re out there.”
Many members of this year’s Arizona squad will be experience postseason play for the first time. Players like Collin Cowgill, Willie Bloomquist, Sean Burroughs, and Brad Ziegler have never played October baseball.
“I’m excited for sure,” Cowgill said. “Two months ago I was trying to make the Reno playoffs in the PCL. This is a little bit bigger stage, and obviously this is where we want to be. So I’m looking forward to the challenge and the excitement that’s coming up.”
The members of the D-backs that have competed in baseball’s postseason hope they will enjoy the experience again. While it’s a high intensity environment, many hope to soak it all in, as well.
“I’d say without a doubt just relish the opportunity,” Owings said. “A lot of guys play 15-20 years and don’t even get to go to the playoffs. My first year I was kind of spoiled, I’m just going to have fun with it whatever happens we’re going to go at it full board.”